Thinking of Our Daughter’s Biological Mom on Mother’s Day

Rachel in the grass


It’s impossible not to wonder about our daughter’s biological mother each time I dress her, or brush her silky, straight black hair, or listen to her enthusiastic belly laugh.

There is much anxiety and dispute about international and transracial adoption. I know there are some stories about whether children from certain countries have been adopted through a legitimate process, or whether they have been stolen or even sold in a manner some have likened to slavery. Some in the media claim that adoption is “rife with corruption.”

While there are certainly some adoption stories that suggest that’s true in certain cases, I object to the broad brush that adoption is being painted with. The adoption process is no more corrupt or driven by money than the fertility industry — it’s just that becoming a parent through the fertility process is viewed as more acceptable to many Americans, than traveling to another a country to adopt orphaned children,  especially when we’re talking about children who “don’t look like us.”

As a mother by adoption, it’s difficult for me to hear these debates among people who have not been through the adoption process and who believe they can pass judgment on the entire adoption world, as well as families, like mine, because of some adoption stories that raise questions of their legitimacy.

But as we find ourselves at yet another Mother’s Day, I am reminded, as I always am, of another aspect of our daughter’s adoption story — the other mother in my daughter’s life. The one we will never know. I wrote the following essay about my daughter’s biological mother five years ago. While my daughter is now a teen, the heart of this essay is still the same, but there are many more people today who feel that it’s acceptable to judge the personal decisions to adopt, rather than follow another path to parenting. I hope they’ll soften those views a bit after reading this —


I’m not sure if they celebrate Mother’s Day in China. But there is a mother somewhere in Hunan Province we honor each year on the second Sunday in May. Actually, the woman my family calls “China Mom,” is someone I think about virtually every day, not just on the designated date each year that marketers want us to send flowers and cards with standardized sentiments. It’s impossible not to wonder about her each time I dress my daughter, or brush her silky, straight black hair, or listen to her enthusiastic belly laugh. I wonder if she looks like her birth-mother and if I’m seeing China Mom’s face when I gaze at my daughter’s.

Over the last few years, my eight-year-old has started understanding that there is another mother in her life. My little girl is beginning to realize that she wasn’t, as she describes it, “borned from” me and that this China Mom we’ve talked about since we became a family is a real person and was her mother before I claimed that title.

I never thought Mother’s Day would be a big deal to me once some little person started calling me “Mommy.” While I loved making Mother’s Day gifts for my own mom when I was a child, proudly presenting her each year with the latest craft that I had lovingly painted or molded at school, the concept of having one day out of 365 to thank the woman who raised me seemed a bit contrived. But I now know that having a special day to talk about mothers will allow my husband and I to help our daughter understand how we became a family, even though that will make it something of a bittersweet occasion for her.

As an adoptive mother, I have come to learn how important it is for many adoptees to know that at some point in their lives they can, if they choose, have a reunion with those who share their genetic makeup. But because of the reality of Chinese adoption (babies, usually girls, are left in well-known finding places with no identifying information, to be taken to the closest orphanage with the hope that a family will adopt her), my little girl will probably never have that chance. So with each passing Mother’s Day, she will have to face how to deal with that and try to understand why she’ll never be able to meet the woman who was her first mother. And to do that, we must remember her and talk about her, especially on Mother’s Day.

Just as I often think of her, I am sure China Mom wonders about us. I wish I could tell her, mother to mother, that the little girl she gave birth to has a smile as broad and beautiful as a field of daisies, that she is vibrant and energetic, and that she is a child with a joyful heart. Better yet, I wish she could see that for herself and that I could tell her, face to face, that her sacrifice gave me the gift of motherhood.

I know in my heart that my daughter is the child I was meant to have, even though she was not “borned from” me. That’s why, as I send my own mother a card this Mother’s Day, I write this to honor my daughter’s birth-mother, and every other woman who has made the difficult decision not to parent a child she has brought into this world. Without China Mom and others like her, thousands of women like me would not be celebrating our own motherhood.

Joanne Bamberger is an independent journalist and journalism entrepreneur who is also the editor of the forthcoming anthology, Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox, and #1 New Release. You can find Joanne on Twitter at @jlcbamberger. Also, follow The Broad Side on Twitter at @The_Broad_Side and on Facebook!

Image via Joanne Bamberger with permission

  • Lisa Solod

    Being “borned” from you or not, you are an amazing mother to your child.

  • Amy McVay Abbott

    Happy Mother’s Day, Joanne! Lucky you and lucky daughter! Love is all you need. 🙂

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